Reminding myself that social media is not real life (#iknowbetter #mostly)

In recent weeks, lots of bloggers—in the outdoor sphere and elsewhere—have been batting around an idea that I think we’re all pretty much in agreement on: social media is not real life.

My life can be pretty exciting, but there's a fair amount of this, too.
My life can be pretty exciting, but there’s a fair amount of this, too.

This has always been fairly clear to me—I don’t Instagram pictures of myself gorging on a pint of Chunky Monkey while I binge-watch episodes of Buffy on a Friday night (#boring), but that doesn’t mean this never happens. My social media feeds are mostly photos of my friends skiing in beautiful places (and, naturally, my dog gets a lot of air time), but not because all I ever do is flee the city and have kick-ass adventures. We all post the raddest parts of our lives because that’s way more interesting than the mundane things we do when no one’s looking.

Despite that I’ve come to terms with the idea of Instagram-is-not-real, I think I fall into the same trap as a lot of other folks: I see a perfectly composed, well-edited photo of an attractive person doing [insert activity I like doing] in a stunning landscape and my first instinct—before I even have a chance to think it through—is jealousy. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

A recent op-ed on Teton Gravity Research bemoaned the rise of the “everyday-woman-turned-outdoor-model” Instagram account, featuring mostly the kinds of posts I just described, and the author brings up some compelling points about commercialism, authenticity, and, generally, why we post the things we do. (There’s also a follow-up piece worth reading, rightly featuring rebuttals and responses by a number of outdoor women with a range of backgrounds.)

This week, outdoor writer Hilary Oliver posted a blog that ended with a thought I’ve been trying to articulate for years, one that feels especially necessary given the aforementioned banter: “Women have enough shit to deal with. Let’s not be that shit for each other.”

It’s so true. Surrounded by images of perfect bodies (damn you, thigh gap denied to me by genetics!) and headlines like “Motherhood and Career: How Does She Do It All?”, women are conditioned to compete with one another from the minute we become conscious that we’re different from one another. I’d argue that these feelings of competition are felt even more acutely in the outdoor realm, where a very small proportion of women exist and thus must constantly look for ways to differentiate ourselves and prove our competence. It’s exhausting.

But—and I can attest to this—banishing those competitive urges (which are not necessarily, at their core, bad) is easier said than done. If only women could just collectively erase those feelings of negativity and embrace one another as fellow outdoorspeople and as humans, we’d be set. A change like this, I think, begins with each of us as individuals, and on a day-to-day basis.

Let me just preface this by admitting that I do not, of course, have it all figured out. I struggle with jealousy and cattiness as much as anybody, maybe even more because I’m a little neurotic. But here goes.

I am a very competent outdoorswoman. Whenever I sleep in a tent (or a car, or a backcountry hut, or anywhere in a sleeping bag), I bring a journal with me. I record mostly mundane details: where I am, who I’m with, what I did that day. On the very last page of my notebook, I put a little tick mark for each night I spend outside. I just tallied my nights out for 2015, and came in at sixty-three. On most of the mornings after those nights spent out (and on countless other days), I did something fun: climbed, hiked, backpacked, ran, mountain biked, skied. I spend a lot of time outside.

Important note to self: I, too, am a badass sometimes!
Important note to self: I, too, am a badass sometimes!

But despite all that time spent building skills and knowledge and fitness, I suffer from a confidence gap—this has also been aptly called “imposter syndrome”—I’m convinced that someone will eventually go out into the wilderness with me and discover that I’m totally clueless, and they will call me on it.

I’m not totally clueless, of course. But when I see other women out doing awesome stuff, either online or in #reallife, I sometimes catch myself feeling insecure. It generally looks something like this: How did she make those turns look so effortless? Will I ever be able to do enough pull-ups to make my arms look like that? I am a hopeless gumby and I’ll never be able to bike anything that badass.

Yep. As a fully-fledged adult, I still have to talk myself out of feeling insecure and envious just because someone else is doing the same thing I’m doing. I can blame some of this on the dreaded patriarchy, but I know some of it is my own hangups, too. So when I feel it coming on, I try to remember to ask myself two questions:

  1. Can I channel this jealousy into something productive? Sometimes this means asking: “How did you do that?” “Can you give me some pointers?” Sometimes it means getting my butt to the rock gym tomorrow morning to climb hard and bust out some ab exercises. Sometimes it just means redoubling my efforts at whatever it is I’m doing and choosing to feel admiration instead of jealousy in that moment.
  2. Is she feeling the same way I am? I think probably the coolest thing about me is that I know I’m not cool. I’m always really surprised when someone tells me how epic my life seems or describes me as a badass to a mutual friend. I’m always like, “Wait, are you talking about me?” Remembering that we all occasionally struggle with feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and insecurity, though not necessarily about the same things, is one way to humanize the people we’re projecting those feelings upon.

I’m not perfect; I’m not capable of doing this all the time. But I am capable of trying, on a case-by-case basis, to use my competitive urges for good—to push myself rather than tearing others down. I think we’re all capable of that, and I think it’s a good start.


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